Seeking out help for your soldier is one of the hardest battles you will ever fight. It can often be the albatross of your marriage and stretch your bonds to the point of almost breaking. You, as the spouse, must be determined, patient and strong enough to carry both yourself and your soldier. Seeking help is not going to be easy because you have so many obstacles that you must overcome such as: stigmas, location to that help, not knowing where to find it to begin with, and then getting your soldier to where he is willing to get help. In our family’s case, it took almost a year before we could get him into anywhere to get the help he needed. It took me six months to get my husband to actually understand that he was in bad shape. Let’s face it, our soldiers aren’t going to go willingly, and it’s really up to the family member or spouse to give them a good shove in the rear and point them in the right direction.
Tie the Yellow Ribbon: More than likely when your soldier was on his way home, you had some type of information briefing from the military going over such things as reintegration, readjustment periods, changes, if any, in benefits (for our Reserve and National Guard), and possibly a glimmer of info on PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). If you haven’t, you need to contact your Family Readiness Group (FRG) leader in your unit if you have one and see about getting some of this information. FRG leaders have access to this information or can make some calls and find out for you. This falls into their purpose of providing resources and referrals. However, we as spouses and the military, know that FRGs are not in existence in all units or be a group that we can trust in some cases.
For Reserves and National Guard, like my family, the Army is putting on “Yellow Ribbon” ceremonies in different parts throughout the deployment cycle at which they educate spouses and family members about the deployment, step-by-step. In my experience, I wasn’t too happy with the portions skipped over by the “professionals” in reference to PTSD and TBI, as I felt it was more important than insurance changes. Each branch may have different programs, so I can only speak from experience on the Army Reserves. I can say that from experience as a spouse and as an FRG leader, more than likely you weren’t really paying attention to those briefings because you are so damn excited that your spouse is coming home!
I have heard from others that “R&R was spectacular, and my husband was fine. So I didn’t pay attention because I didn’t need the information then”. Exactly! Who would pay attention? The first thing I was thinking was, “My baby is coming home!” No more stress, no more single parenting, no more communicating over the internet, SEX, and of course, no worrying. The thoughts of having problems never occurred to me, or many others, because, well, we thought everything was fine. That’s how you get blindsided ladies…then suddenly that perfect house of cards comes tumbling down leaving you with only the joker in hand.
What the hell is wrong with my spouse: By now the first few weeks he is home, you have noticed small things or big things but attributed it to merely readjustment problems from being overseas. As the months pass by, you may have noticed the symptoms like my last post discussed like: sleep walking, mood changes, sudden outbursts, keeping himself away from others, anger, freaking out over loud noises and the list goes on. Things have become rocky at home, arguments start, knock out drag down fights, sudden distance between you and your spouse, not to mention all the other little things like keeping you awake when he suddenly jumps up looking for his gun, or talking in his sleep. You start to question, he gets mad and pushes you further away. Now your perfect R&R seems so far away as you suddenly realize, this is not my spouse!
Realization: Some soldiers really want to get help, and others fight it as if they were suddenly asked to have a sex change or full frontal lobotomy. The first thing I suggest you do is walk into a bathroom…look into a mirror…and take a deep breath. Repeat after me: “My spouse has gone to war and has returned a different person. He will never be the same again.” Once you have done that, you can then begin looking for help. Often times than not, spouses will have a denial period themselves.
Some PTSD sufferers can be suddenly verbally or physically abusive, or drinking and then fights begin. Others will have “up” days where you think a 360 degree turnaround has happened and everything is fine. You think in your head over and over, this is just a phase that will pass…but in your heart, you know differently. Most of us go into this period of denying all this is happening and often make excuses for our soldiers. It’s very easy to slip into this role, and once you sink in over your head, it’s hard to come back up for air. Put your foot firmly on the ground, one on your soldier’s butt and start preparing for that good shove forward to the direction they need to go in!
Opening the Door of Communication: More than likely, you and your spouse/family have argued, fought and slammed a lot of doors, and you have spent sleepless nights with tons of tears. Fighting about the issues isn’t going to make your soldier jump up and down and be willing to communicate. The best advice I can give you is to sit down as a family and talk. No yelling, no accusations…simply say: “We are having a meeting, and all of this is going to be laid out on the table. We as a family/I as your spouse, want to help you, and if you feel we need to stop discussing this, we will. We will, though, pick this back up at a later time because I need you to know and understand how this is affecting our family and relationship.”
As a spouse, you are probably wondering what’s going on with your significant other, so asking him is the first thing. Of course, they are going to buck and whine like babies and say, “Nothing”! The next thing is to say: “I am noticing some problems since you have been home and want to help you. I can’t do that if you won’t let me. I married you for sickness and in health, for better or for worse. Let’s talk.” IF the soldier is not ready to talk, don’t push it. Simply say “When you are ready, come to me, and I will listen for as long as you want me to.” I told you, it’s not going to be easy getting them to talk about or even admitting they have problems. I have learned from other spouses and from marriage counseling that this is the best approach, and later, what my husband wished I had done. Listening and talking to other PTSD veterans, they confirmed that they wished their spouses would have sat them down and just been open with them rather than screaming and yelling. Often times, the soldier doesn’t even realize he is going through some of these problems you are seeing. Having a small intervention and discussing it will help. It may end up ticking them off more with their PTSD “beast” side, but your soldier is still inside somewhere trying to fight his way back up. They can hear you, even if they seem like the don’t. Let this “talk” sink in and move forward.
Hurry up and Wait: Getting your spouse to even admit he has problems and willing to get help is a long wait for many. No soldier wants to admit he is having problems, especially those who are extremely into their military career. Many worry about stigmas, their fellow soldiers and their perception of them, and, of course, their families. Stop and ask yourself this question: If you were in his position and possibly the main source of income and insurance, and the military is what you know and do/love…would you not be scared to say, “I have a problem.”? Of course you would! It can take a long time, and it’s an uphill battle all the way to fight to get treatment for your spouse. It’s not easy, it never gets any easier, and it will get worse before it gets better. Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day, so more than likely you are not going to be able to get help for him until he is ready.
Educate Yourself: I mentioned this in my first post, but I cannot reiterate how important it is again for all of your family. Seek out information and resources, stockpile your arsenal inside your brain. There are many misconceptions and stigmas associated with PTSD. Look up “Soldier’s Heart” and the term “Shell Shock”. You would be surprised to learn that PTSD in soldiers has been around for as long as wars have occurred in our civilization. Most of the time, the Army suggests we send them to MilOneSource (now Army One Source), but check out other resources too. MilOneSource does not deal with medical issues. Yes, I know the Army pushes it as if it’s going to be the golden savior for all humanity in the military world, but I am saving you many phone calls and waits while they transfer you back and forth. After two years, they finally admitted when I questioned their resources that they do not have any help for us as spouses or for the soldiers for issues like PTSD and TBI.
Talk with your FRG leader if you feel it’s someone you can trust. Experiences have either made you comfortable with Family Readiness Groups or feel like you absolutely can’t deal with them. This is your call! As an FRG leader, some of my soldiers have come forward to talk to me about problems and to seek help, while others and their spouses have been so badly burned that no matter what I do, it can’t change how they feel. Being a Combat PTSD spouse has helped me help my families in my unit, but this isn’t going to be the case for all.
If you don’t have an FRG in your unit or can’t trust your FRG Leader, look next to your unit’s chaplain. He/she is not just there for the soldiers only and, often times, can be very understanding and of course, confidential. Chaplains have a huge wealth of resources in and out of the military world. Look for resources near your installation, near your home, near your local VA. If the soldier is out of active duty for the Reserves/National Guard, they need to be put into the VA system anyway to ensure disability benefits whether they readily admit problems or issues. If they are active duty, they can go to the Vet Center which is located in the same area as the VAs in most cases.
Education is sometimes soothing, because we can then tackle PTSD as a problem rather than dealing with the unknown. Such sites as Family of a Vet, PTSD-VA, or Real Warriors will have some insightful information for families and veterans. Find therapists in the area that take your military insurance. There is nothing wrong with going “outside” the military to get help, and no one needs to know. Stockpiling information and finding resources to help will enable you as a couple/family deal with it when the soldier finally comes to terms that he/she needs help. Be prepared! Find out what needs to be done once you can get your soldier to receive help.
Remember: Now that you are armed with information, you realize that your spouse has some problems that he/she can’t help. Here is where it gets tricky: Separating your anger from understanding. As a spouse, we blame, we get angry, we accuse, we get frustrated. That’s completely normal! When things get bad, try to keep in mind that they can’t help the way they are. This doesn’t mean they don’t love you or their family, they just have problems. Their minds are constantly going and they are thinking about so many things at one time. It’s very hard for them to stop and sort through all these thought processes in their heads. When you get angry, stop and remember your education. They may have come home to you, but the war still lives on inside their heads 24 hours a day. It’s nothing that’s going to just go away, and even with treatment, they will struggle for the rest of their lives.
Don’t automatically just throw in the towel and give up…fight. Fight for your spouse, and once he/she comes to terms they will understand that you are there and willing to fight alongside of them. This doesn’t mean you should automatically blame everything your spouse does on PTSD or TBI, because every marriage has some problems and every couple argue/fight. You will be in trouble, they will be in trouble…hey, it happens. Just know that somewhere deep inside, your spouse is still there. You just have to help clear the fog and help them find themselves once again.
Forget Me Not: As we go through all these ups and downs, and the world suddenly seems to be revolving around our spouses with issues…it’s very easy for the spouse to be left out, and, if any, the children overlooked. Your job as a spouse is to help your significant other, but you have to remember yourself in the process..along with your children. In educating yourself, you probably came across some things in reference to your family and yourself. You will need someone to talk to, your children may need some type of counseling…SEEK IT OUT. If you have insurance and don’t feel like you can go to a military installation, then go outside! Having a therapist for yourself and someone you can relieve all this flooding of emotions, moods, fights, and struggles at home to will help you tremendously. Keep a journal or blog such as I am doing. You don’t have to post pictures or your names….keep it anonymous. Finding an outlet for yourself has got to be a priority in your life.
Seek out other spouses facing PTSD. There are several blogs on the internet….e-mail their authors! FIND A BATTLE BUDDY. Your soldier had one overseas while serving, so what’s so different for you? Seek out others on post or nearby. Call the VA to see if they have any resources for this. Every VA has a social worker for the mental health department. Call and harass that person for resources! Be aggressive in your search and don’t give up if nothing pans out right away. If you can’t find a group, start one! Seeking help for yourself is a necessity because I tell you….doing it alone sucks! Remember yourself first, especially in safety purposes. If it becomes dangerous or hazardous to live with your veteran, then do what you must do to protect yourself and your children. Being selfish all the time is not a good thing, but there are times in everyone’s world that you must focus on yourself, your children and staying safe.
Facing the Unknown: Facing symptoms and getting a diagnosis is going to be one of many hard jobs when married to PTSD/TBI. Often times, PTSD and TBI is not screened among our soldiers coming home or our soldiers lie so they can go home sooner. By educating yourself, you know what to look for, and by writing in a journal what you are going through, you can help your soldier get the proper help he needs. By seeking out resources for you and your family, you have the ability to keep fighting. Look at these issues as an unwanted guest in your home. A burglar with the intent of stealing away precious items that you love…will you tolerate it? No! Face PTSD and TBI head on and as one. Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it difficult getting everyone on the same team, but it can be done. Remember that you aren’t alone, and that nothing is ever easy. Feeling the way you do sometimes or having a breakdown is normal! If you didn’t feel angry, resentful, hurt or unloved…you wouldn’t be human!
Keeping the peace and finding help in your household will be the greatest task you will ever take on in your life. There will be times when you want to walk away and give up as that is the easiest way to deal with it. When married to a Combat PTSD Vet, life is always going to have difficulties. I try to maintain a positive outlook, look at PTSD and TBI as other medical problems like cancer, and then ask myself…..would I give up on him so easily and would he give up on me? Your answer to this question will be completely up to you. Standing by your soldier’s side will be the most important aspect of them getting help. You will be the main anchor in their lives and the only lifeline they will cling to so desperately.
As always, feel free to comment and add on resources or ideas. We are getting more and more readers, so keep it coming! Anything you can add may help another spouse in finding help!!
Stumbling with you,